Pretty Flower, pretty useful plant

Things are a bit crazy in the world right now. With malicious viruses sweeping their way through our lives it is hard not to feel helpless. It is times like these that remind me how I started in the window restoration business in the first place. Living in a house with old windows that were in desperate need of repair and no knowledge to do so, I felt a bit helpless. For me then, as it still is now, seeking out the knowledge and skills I lack is the best way to ease my mind.

Like many in our area right now, I find myself with a little time to kill at home. My time killer of choice today is to do another round of seasoning my cast iron pans. Ever since reading and following Sheryl Canter’s Blog and the Cook’s Illustrated coverage of her cast iron pan seasoning method, I have cooked my fried eggs on my skillet without any problems. I highly recommend cooking with cast iron in general. If any of you watched the Dark Waters Film this past year you may now know the risks of non-stick pans. (Okay, if we are going to continue to head on tangents here, you should also check out the documentary The Devil We Know, which covers the same story and is on Netflix. Both movies are great ways to spend your time as you shelter in place) Luckily you can naturally achieve a non-stick surface if you follow this method of seasoning your pans. I warn you it takes some time to do it right but that is one thing most of us have in excess right now.

Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet Using Flaxseed Oil

So now we can get onto the heart of this post: The Flax plant. The flax plant is one of the most useful plants in human history. The oil that I use to season my skillets is Flaxseed oil. At work, we use linseed oil to pre-treat wood and linseed oil is a major ingredient in oil glazing putty and some oil paints. Guess what? Linseed oil and flaxseed oil are one and the same. They are the oil that is derived from the flax seed. For the most part it seems the only real difference is that we tend to call the oil we use for cooking and eating flaxseed and we refer to the oil we use in home improvement and painting as linseed oil.

The oils from the seeds are not even this plant’s most significant contribution to humanity. The textile called linen is derived from the fibers of this plant. It seems that linen is the source for the alternate name for the seeds being called linseeds (linoleum is also a product derived from this seed and the name has the same source). No matter what you call it, humans have been using the fibers of the flax plant for a crazy long time. Textiles using flax fibers have been found dating as far back as 30,000 years.

Linseed oil has been used as a binder in paints for hundreds of years. It is the chemical properties of the oil that make it so attractive. It is applied and flows like an oil but it dries (technically oxidizes) to a solid form. In its solid form it still remains somewhat pliable and also fairly hydrophobic, which is why it functions so well in paints and putties. That also explains why it seasons my cast iron pans so well.

As with everything, there is a downside to linseed oil. It is highly flammable and is know to spontaneously combust. Care must be taken when working with linseed oil to avoid this undesirable event. Store linseed oils and paints in metal cabinets. For rags that have the oil on them, we lay them out flat on the ground far from combustible materials and place them in a metal container when they have dried.

Knowing what a fantastically useful plant the flax is, it made me wonder if I should plant my own flax plants just in case I need to produce my own oil and linen. The answer to that question was a clear yes to planting this in my garden. It has a surprisingly pretty blue flower. Though it would ease my mind knowing I have the plant out there in case I need to make my own linseed oil and linen, I read about all that goes into both processes and I have moved on from that fantasy. Things aren’t that bad…

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